The Court House, Bangor

Photograph of the Court House as a bank in 1918

Court House as a bank in 1918. Courtesy of The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Built in 1866 as a branch of the then Belfast Banking Company, the building became a Magistrates Court in 1952. When the court was decommissioned in 2013, it was listed as a Grade B2 building on the Heritage At Risk register. Remaining the property of the Department of Justice, it began to fall into disrepair.

In 2015, a local volunteer lobby group Bangor Shared Space raised the possibility of acquiring the building via the Community Asset Transfer process for use as a community or creative venue, and invited Open House to join the campaign. The scale of such a transition soon became clear, and Bangor Shared Space ultimately decided to step aside and pass the baton to Open House, who had the capacity to pursue the acquisition and restoration of the building for use as an arts venue for social benefit. In late 2020, this work resulted in the successful transfer of the property to Open House Festival representing the first zero sum Community Asset Transfer of a heritage building in NI.

Over the following years Open House worked with several government departments to develop a business plan that showed the potential for the building to become an accessible, multi-purpose arts venue and reflected the social and economic benefits it would bring to the local community. In 2017 they embarked on an initial crowdfunding campaign securing £50,000 to partner fund the major funding application to The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Department for Communities and other trusts and foundations bringing the total package to £1.8m.

The Court House opened its doors to the public in October 2022 and has been a great success. It has hosted a wide variety of events and activities including regular film clubs, trad sessions, music nights and art activities – all catering to different audiences. The capital redevelopment and associated audience participation is a significant driver of confidence in the regeneration of Bangor which is on the cusp of change.

Image of front of Bangor Court House

Bangor Court House courtesy of The National Lottery Heritage Fund